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Free Wheeling offers entry into world of roller skating

Ash Mateja, right, leads a class on basic roller skating skills Sunday, May 15, in the Homewood auditorium. The three-week series of free sessions concludes Sunday, May 29. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

Make it free. It’s the obvious thing to do if you love roller skating and want to make it more accessible to everyone.

Ash Mateja did just that. She started Free Wheeling, an organization devoted to not just spreading the skating word but helping people get started.

Or restarted.

Free Wheeling is hosting the last of three introductory roller skating events at the Homewood auditorium, 2018 Chestnut Road. The final session will be from 1 to 3 p.m. on Sunday, May 29, although the classes are listed as full on the organization’s Instagram page. 

Free Wheeling brings a supply of skates to its sessions so people interested in skating can try it out without investing in equipment right away. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

At the first session on May 15, about 25 people showed up to learn, including several youngsters who appeared to be novices. Most of the crowd, though, was adults who were there to reclaim a recreational activity from their earlier years.

While going around the group for introductions, several noted they had not skated in 20 or 25 years but were hoping to rediscover the fun. 

That’s exactly what Mateja, whose skating alias is “Crimson Vixen,” had in mind.

The alias is part of her skating life. She discovered the sport in 2013 when she first tried roller derby and fell in love with the sport and with skating. 

“The biggest thing about roller skating to me is I’ve seen how much it just has enriched my life in terms of community, in terms of exercise, in terms of feeling more confident in myself,” she said. “I want other people to have access to that, too.”

Mateja said she has experience leading skating organizations and had plans to start Free Wheeling several years ago, but the COVID-19 pandemic put plans on hold. Now, she’s ready to get the organization rolling.

Ash Mateja greets participants before the first Free Wheeling skate lesson on May 15. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

The main mission is to smooth the friction points that might prevent people who are interested in skating from actually trying it. Equipment purchase or rental costs, admission costs and lack of skill or confidence might trip up inexperienced skaters, she said.

So Free Wheeling provides loaner skates at its events, and Mateja along with a team of volunteer instructors help people learn the basics.

“It’s expensive to get involved. I wanted to remove that cost barrier,” she said. “I want people to be able to roller skate, basically show up somewhere, be enthusiastic about it and have somebody on hand to teach them and have the equipment they need to get started.”

The types of skating are varied, and people can choose what best fits their interests. Mateja said she is “as interdisciplinary as I can be” and participates in roller derby, speed skating, park skating, trail skating, street skating and James Brown dance skating. 

Chase Causey, front left, with his grandmother, Chantel Causey, right, and his mom, Lynn Causey, after his first skate lesson from Free Wheeling. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

Getting the basics down not only opens up new recreation opportunities but can lead to new communities. Mateja said she hopes some of the participants will take the opportunity to explore the various skating activities and organizations in the area.

“We have so many skate communities around here that I want people also to be able to get involved in,” she said. “If you do roller derby or you do park skating, you need to have a base level of being able to roller skate first in order to do those activities.”

One of the participants at the May 15 session, Chase Causey of Park Forest, said he had skated only once before. He was there with his mother, Lynn Causey, and his grandmother, Chantel Causey of Country Club Hills. He said the biggest take-away for him was learning “crisscross.”

“That’s one of our stopping moves,” he said.

He said he planned to be back for the next session.

“I just like skating,” he said.

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